Needed: More Reality TV
by Craig Eley
Law and law-related television shows are getting more and more unbelievable. For example, I was sick in bed not long ago, and (not having cable) I had to endure the usual daytime broadcast TV tripe. One of those "People’s Court"-type shows came on, featuring a habitually angry judge. By a terrible mischance I had lost the remote control. Too ill to get up and manually change the channel (even if I knew how), I was left to actually watch the show.
A young woman was suing her boyfriend for destroying her car while he was drunk. The boyfriend did not put in an appearance in TV court, so I figured this would be a slam dunk winner for the plaintiff. She described to the judge how she had loaned her boyfriend her car to go to work, and he didn’t show up until the next day, and then without her car. I was waiting for her testimony as to the value of the car, but the case never got that far. It seems the judge was more interested in the moral aspects of the case:
Judge: How old are you?
J: How old is your boyfriend?
J: Where did you meet him?
P: What’s that got to do with anything?
J: I ask the questions here, young lady! Where did you meet him?
P: At my mother’s lawyer’s office.
J: Is your mother a lawyer?
P: No, we were at her lawyer’s office.
J: Is your boyfriend a lawyer?
P: No, he was there to see his lawyer. I met him in the waiting room.
J: Why was he seeing a lawyer?
P: For some kind of criminal thing.
J: Does your boyfriend have a record?
P: He was in prison for awhile, if that’s what you mean.
J: What are you doing hanging out, living with, an ex-con?
P: I don’t anymore, he’s my ex-boyfriend.
J: Since when?
P: Since he totaled my car. That’s why I’m here.
J: What do your parents think about the fact that you cohabitated with a 27-year-old jailbird?
P: They weren’t too happy about it.
J: I would guess they weren’t! I am going to deny your claim, young lady, and I suggest you start associating with a better kind of people! That’s where your trouble is! Case closed!
So, television justice prevails. If you are dumb enough to have a scumbag for a boyfriend, then he gets some kind of immunity for torts he may commit against you or your property, even when he’s drunk. Despite my lack of high-definition TV, I could make out a statuette of the goddess of justice on the judge’s bench. She had the normal scales of justice, but I’m pretty sure she had the face of Dr. Laura, and she was smiling!
So, who is responsible in this situation? Probably me, for being too cheap to subscribe to cable or for losing the remote. But do viewers really think that this is the kind of justice they will get if they ever have to go to court? That question concerned me, until the commercial break, during which a seemingly healthy guy reported that he had hired "The Butt Kicker" after an auto accident, and the lawyer had gotten him $350,000. Now, that’s more like it.
"The Butt Kicker" was followed by similar ads for the "The Doberman," "The Mongoose," and all manner of anthropomorphous mammals. They were all lawyers promising accident victims that they would get them what they "deserve." Wow, what a promise! I don’t think I ever had a client who got what he or she felt they deserved. These guys are definitely better lawyers than me. And their ads were fascinating. I recommend six hours of daytime TV for anyone who bemoans the United States’ supposed lack of culture and class.
I got to thinking about other unrealistic law-related television programs. The "CSI" (crime scene investigation) franchise (Las Vegas, Miami and New York) is about the most-watched genre that exists on television. Yet, they would have us believe that every time some vagrant is found dead in an alley, six people spend five full days just trying to determine his identity, using million-dollar pieces of high-tech equipment. ("Let’s try probing the needle marks on his arm with the Ultramarine Supercollider LaserScan, from which we might be able to decipher the faint residue of the serial number of the needle, which will lead us to the methadone clinic where he got his fix. Then we will show around a hologram of the victim, created by using the Facial Reconstitutive Retroevolving software to illustrate what he probably would have looked like if we had found him within hours of death, instead of three months later.")
The truth is that there are so many dead bodies found in major cities everyday that no jurisdiction can afford to assign a CSI team to each one for a week. Real crime scene investigators probably just take fingerprints and see if there is a match to anyone in the Big Computer in D.C. If there isn’t, they probably tag him and bag him and let it go at that. Money for these efforts is so scarce that, it was reported recently, the city of Denver is looking for unpaid volunteers for its CSI units, to collect fingerprints and DNA
I think it’s about time that reality TV came to law and cop shows. It’s not all glamour and glitz. True, some shows are more realistic than others. I always like the pre-trial machinations in the "Law & Order" series. I cringe, however, when the drama builds as the defense attorney smugly tosses a Motion to Suppress to Executive ADA Jack McCoy. McCoy takes it, peruses it briefly, then gazes up to his assistant with a look of surprise. Surprise? A Motion to Supress only happens in every single episode! And probably on almost every felony case Jack or any real prosecutor has ever handled.
To bring broadcast TV out of the ratings doldrums, some innovative thinking is required. Programs are needed that appeal to the common schmoe who, like me, can’t afford cable TV. Something we can relate to, showing situations that actually occur. I suggest, for starters,
"Law & Order — Parking Violations Bureau":
Denver Parking Manager: Sundays free? Not on my watch, buddy.
The mass appeal of a show like this is self-evident, and as soon as I complete my Famous Authors School correspondence course in screenplay writing, I’ll be cranking out scripts at a hundred grand per. They say the hardest part about writing is coming up with an idea, but I’ve got a million of them. If you promise not to steal them, I’ll let you in on a couple:
"CSI: Sales Tax Audit":
Anonymous caller: Yeah, I’d like to report a tie-dye booth at the Peoples’ Fair that isn’t displaying a sales tax license.
Director of Revenue: Magnotta, get out there and check it out.
Magnotta: I’m on it, Chief!
Meter maid: Boss, we think a guy is using slugs instead of quarters in the parking meters.
Parking Manager: Send the slugs to trace and see if they can pull any epithelials. Then, I want the surveillance tapes from all the Starbucks in the area to see if we can pick up any visuals. While you’re at it, check with vice and see how they’re coming with that suspected jaywalker. The guy not only crosses against the light, but in the middle of the block! What the hell is this city coming to?
Animal Control Officer #1: We had reports of a pack of dogs running at large through this neighborhood, but it seems pretty quiet now.
Animal Control Officer #2: Quiet … yeah … maybe too quiet.
"N.Y.P.D. — Police Sketch Artist":
Victim (to sketch artist): You’ve got the mustache wrong on my mugger. I think it was a little fuller … no, not that full, a little thinner … not that thin … and maybe a little grayer … no, that’s too gray … I think it had a hint of red … actually, I think it was a goatee, you know, like that guy had who used to be on General Hospital, you know, Mary’s brother? But he turned out to really be her father, and he died in that horrible paper shredder accident? Only it wasn’t as pointy … you know, now that I think about it, I think the mugger might have actually been clean shaven … why are your hands around my neck? I can’t breathe! Stop! Aaargh … (fade to black).
OK, so maybe this isn’t the greatest stuff you’ve ever read. But you have to admit that it’s better than what’s on the tube these days. Take "Boston Legal," for example. The partner with the big corner office is actually a complete nutcase. Like that ever really happens!